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Dowry. Way back when, it could mean the difference between marrying for love or marrying for those 10 acres of land you and your serfs could till. It is what is brought to the proverbial table when it came to exchanging a hand in marriage. In our culture today, the need for a significant dowry is relatively unimportant and not typically a part of the engagement (although it might have made going along to pick out flowers for our wedding a little more bearable had I picked up an ox and some squares of land for marrying my wife).
Today, dowry is less about new ownership of goods and commodities and more about who you gain with marriage, specifically, in-laws. Your love will move you to saying ‘I do’ (love can make you do crazy things) and two will become one plus a few more. You’ve married the love of your life and accepted them in to your life for better or worse and in doing so; you have accepted their family in too, for better or worse.
Besides instructing our kids about the basic fundamentals of getting through the day without eating things off of the floor and why coloring the dog with permanent markers is not allowed, parents have the unenviable task of entertaining our children. In spite of the massive collection of toys in our house, parents are called on to be domestic social directors. From sun up until sun down, we do our very best to make sure the docket is full of meaningful activities for our kids to be a part of outside of banging on pots and pans and watching the Dora DVD for an 67th time. We do our best to fill the days scheduling play dates, soccer practice, t-ball, and karate, trips to the library, and planning vacations. Our kids’ calendars are filled to make sure they have the “proper” mental stimulation their developing minds apparently crave according to talk show hosts and celebrity authors.
But sometimes your library card goes missing (probably hidden by the tiny person tugging at your jeans) and a rainy day has canceled practice. It’s those times, when your child looks up at you with those eyes that say ‘Ok, now what Dad’; you need to rely on your ability to improvise.
I got a text from my sister that simply said, “I want you to know, I love you”.
Most times, you can’t decipher whether the person texting you is trying to be funny, serious, sarcastic, or buttering you up to ask for something. For some reason with this text, I sensed there had been true weight behind her words. I texted her back, “I love you too” and hoped the substance of my text would be felt, in turn, by her.
Thankfully, we have moved past calling each other buttface or hinting, not so subtly, that one of us was adopted and thereby loved just a little less by our parents (neither of us were) unless the situation demands such words. We have adult conversations. We have arguments. We laugh at the inside jokes the two of us have shared since we were kids. We hold tightly the bond, tempered by a lifetime, a brother and his sister have. So while the text came as a slight shock it was not unprompted. The other night, we lost a family member.
My wife and I are getting ready to celebrate our 13th year as husband and wife. Among other things, after almost 13 years, we have had plenty to talk about. Thankfully, in all the years we’ve been together, we have maintained a healthy, if not sarcastic, line of communication with each other. We had conversations about everything you would expect being married for a baker’s dozen of years is liable to prompt.
We’ve talked about our kids, work, bills, how we were going to pay the mortgage, which kinds of potato chips are the best, what we should watch on TV, and who’s turn it was to clean the bathroom.
In that time, we have been able to create a type of banter not unlike most married couples have. I have realized the passion, emotion, and occasional irrationality my wife is prone to. In turn, she has figured out how to read me like a cheap romance novel, I can be maddeningly stubborn, and at my core, I’m basically an idiot.
But throughout all of our conversations, ranging from deadly serious to ridiculously trivial, there has always been one constant; our love for one another.
“It is our Hester, —the town’s own Hester, —who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!” – The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter was Mrs. Strickler’s favorite book. Actually, I don’t know if that is true. I would guess her favorite book was whatever she was reading and teaching to her class at the time. I know she made me read that book in English class. I hated every word of it and missed most of the inferences and symbolism (at least the ones that Cliff Notes missed). But I did read it because she told me I had to.
Mrs. Strickler was, in every sense of the word, a teacher. Every connotation, denotation, and inference, she embodied. She was the kind of teacher who never worried about which students liked her. She wasn’t the most popular teacher in school, her classes were certainly not the easiest, and she did not allow for short cuts or excuses (and absolutely no Cliff Notes). Mrs. Strickler demanded her students give her their best and in return she promised to give them hers.
The night before my youngest daughter was to sit in front of a priest to divulge all of her sinful ways to ask for forgiveness for her first Penance, I sat down with her to practice the Act of Contrition. The Act is a part of the seven Sacraments both of my daughters are learning in church. It’s the script, which if said correctly, helps to wash away any transgressions of the canonical 10 Commandments of God (or any other of the 335 Commandments parents tend to keep and add on to).
The Act of Contrition starts out with, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…” It then moves in to loving God, asking for his forgiveness, saying ‘Amen’ and then waiting for the priest to make with the absolution. It is vital, according to her teacher, she know the Act word for word which is why, I knew we needed the practice after Emma began with, “Oh my God I’m hardly sorry for having off-end-den thou”. The last thing I wanted was to have my daughter sit in with the priest and not know the words that would help release off of her conscience, the sin of fighting with her sister (Parent Commandment #21).
Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night. My Dad would get home from work a few minutes after five o’clock just as my mom was putting the finishing touches on a protein frying in her pan and whatever vegetable she was going to be force feeding me that night. It was my parents’ chance to talk to my sister and I, it was my sister’s and my chance to do whatever we could to get the other to laugh without being caught by our mom and dad, and it was the dog’s chance to scavenge some scraps (especially on Brussels sprout night).
Our dinners sometimes were eaten in silence. Sometimes there were arguments. Sometimes I had to gag down the food my mom cooked. And even though most times there were pleasant conversations, as I got older, I didn’t see the value in it. I saw through the lens of a teenager which allows for about as much perspective as tanning goggles. In my mind, my friends, girls, basketball, or any other engagement I thought was more important all had my attention more than dinner with my family. I could not understand why my Mom kept bringing me back to the table even though I had lost my appetite for family dinners.
Time has a way of catching up to us.
And not only does it catch up but it flies right past us. One minute we’re young, able to function on less than 3 hours of sleep after drinking for 12 hours straight and the next we can’t get out of bed after 8 hours of sleep without wincing at the pain shooting from our backs. That full head of hair is replaced by a scalp that looks like the top of a globe. Vibrancy, flexibility, and a thirst for adventure all take a back seat to your knees cracking any time you bend them and doing whatever you can to pencil a mid-afternoon nap in to your day.
The other weekend, my wife and I went out with friends of ours for a night on the town. Unlike our typical dinner out and home in time to fall asleep watching Saturday Night Live, we were going to bar hop, drink too much, and stay out later than normal. By the second bar, I had seen more neck tattoos than on a marathon of Miami Ink, my beer was lukewarm, I was tired, and ready to go home.
The flames of youth I thought I could reignite with an alcohol accelerant and the spark of local bars never happened. I realized I am much better suited to a decaffeinated coffeehouse. It was clear, that youthful portion of my life had passed me by.
But that’s life. While I’m prone to delusions of grandeur and irrationality, even I have accepted certain aspects of my life are finished and best left to the past or nostalgic conversations. I have accepted, my current state will eventually end as well and I’ll enter in to whatever the next stage of life is (I’m praying it doesn’t involve yelling at kids who walk on my front lawn quite yet). I’ve come to grips with being bald, wearing a knee brace for even meaningless physical activity, and the pains of waking up in the morning. I’ve reached a point of recognition that all of the moments in our lives are brief. These moments are not sustained by longevity which is why, given the opportunity; we tend to wax rhapsodic about them long after they have passed us by as a way to remember.
Marriage, as it does, has a way of settling couples in to routine. I get out of bed the same way every morning (begrudgingly and with a pain in my lower back); my wife gets ready the same way every morning. We clean the house at specific times; bills get paid the same way. And the laundry gets done every Friday afternoon.
My wife separates it on Thursday, we get the kids to school Friday morning, and by 11am, the spin cycle is on. When I get home from work and get a chance to decompress from the day, I fold the wash.
I’ve reached a point in my life where the thought of excitement, adventure, spur of the moment trips just makes me tired. Being able to sit down (which is key) when everyone else goes to bed, to do something as mindless as fold our laundry, and watch a little television, is just fine with me.
I actually enjoy the whole process. It’s almost cathartic for me. And even though we accumulate more laundry in a week than a Von Trapp family reunion weekend, I don’t mind and I don’t want help.
Unfortunately, there are times when my wife wants to help.
“Emma, would you please put on some clothing.”
This phrase is uttered by me usually three or four times a day. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me when the 7 year old feels the need to come down the steps before her shower, completely in the buff, to tell me about something that happened in school 6 hours prior, although why I bought her a bathrobe puzzles me.
I know why she is standing on the bottom step with her hands on her naked hips in semi-model pose. My kids are not shy about their bodies. For the first fifteen minutes before a shower, one look up my steps will garner you candid access to a burlesque show headlined by a 10 and 7 year old who are laughing, shaking their rear ends, jumping off of my bed, and commenting to each other how good they look in the nude.